Woody Powell is a Stanford sociologist who studies the economic culture of cities. Recently, he and his research team studied why certain regions—Boston, San Francisco, San Diego—became leaders in biotechnology while others with a similar concentration of scientific and corporate talent—Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New York—did not. The answer they found was what Powell describes as the anchor-tenant theory of economic development. Just as an anchor store will define the character of a mall, anchor tenants in biotechnology, whether it’s a company like Genentech, in South San Francisco, or a university like M.I.T., in Cambridge, define the character of an economic community. They set the norms. The anchor tenants that set norms encouraging the free flow of ideas and collaboration, even with competitors, produced enduringly successful communities, while those that mainly sought to dominate did not.
Powell suspects that anchor tenants play a similarly powerful community role in other areas of economics, too, ....
I don't mean to get carried away with the analogy, but Powell's work on biotechnology institutions -- building networks of public and private institutions that enable the free flow of ideas and collaboration, even with competitors, is the way to sustainable economic development -- resonates strongly with me when it comes to economic activity up and down the scale, and across industrial boundaries. (Here's a link to some of Powell's research.)
Pittsburgh sometimes suffers from a great deal of hoarding of economic opportunity; if Pittsburgh's modest rebirth (at least as reported in the media and recognized in the White House) is to continue, the hoarding must stop. (I'm reminded of the phrase -- "The beatings will continue until morale improves!")
In biotechnology and beyond, who are Pittsburgh's collaborative anchor tenants?